In the course of his 20-minute Zoom conversation with reporters, Gregg Berhalter revealed that midfielder Weston McKennie would return to the starting lineup for the United States men’s national team Thursday after missing the two most recent World Cup qualifiers for disciplinary reasons.
So he was willing to go public with that decision, but when asked by Sporting News if he had chosen a starting goalkeeper for the Jamaica game among Matt Turner, Zack Steffen and Sean Johnson, Berhalter declined.
“We’re working through the final lineup now, this afternoon, and we’ll see,” Berhalter told SN on Wednesday. “We’ll keep you guys posted.”
Which means we’ll most likely know a little more than an hour before the game.
And it’ll almost certainly be Turner.
As it should be.
But almost is not a word thrown in by chance.
Berhalter really didn’t have to think much about this position when the USMNT gathered in September for its first three games of the 14 they will play in the attempt to earn a position in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Turner (above) had performed brilliantly in helping the U.S. to win the Gold Cup tournament in early August; Steffen had seen the team through much of the Nations League tournament the Americans also won, but he was injured late in the final and was replaced for the remainder of regulation and extra time. But in advance of the El Salvador game that opened qualifying, Steffen was bothered by back spasms. So Turner was an obvious choice to start and pitched a shutout. And then Steffen tested positive for COVID-19 before the Canada game in Nashville, and so the net was Turner’s again, and this time he came up with a brilliant save early that eventually contributed to a 1-1 draw and then was solid in a 4-1 road victory against Honduras.
With both players available in camp now, Berhalter’s choice is not entirely clear. He has a history with Steffen, having deployed him regularly with the USMNT since becoming head coach in 2019 and for two seasons with the Columbus Crew in Major League Soccer.
Berhalter seemed to reveal a preference for Turner in a conversation with reporters last week. Asked about his “depth chart” in goal, with the question prefaced with a mention of Turner’s recent performance, Berhalter replied, “Matt’s an example of taking advantage of his opportunity. He did that in the Gold Cup, and he did that again in the first games of the qualifying window.” But then he tried to regenerate the mystery by saying the coaches look at all the goalies’ club form and previous performances with the national team.
“What I can say is Matt’s been doing an excellent job. We know Zack. We know what he can bring. Sean Johnson is another guy who’s been playing well with NYC,” Berhalter said. “We feel like we have great cover, great depth in the goalkeeper position.”
Turner, 27, has been the regular starter for the New England Revolution since 2018 and has had at least five shutouts in each season since. The Revs have been the best team in the league this season, and his reputation has surged, further enhanced by his stunning shot-stopping in the six games of the Gold Cup. He did not allow a single goal in five of the six games.
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To remove him from the lineup now would send a curious message to his teammates, who’ve seen how Turner has excelled in Steffen’s absence.
Steffen is a talented and accomplished player, and he has more experience helping his teams to play out of the back, but transferring to Manchester City has meant playing less often. City’s starter is Brazil’s Ederson, considered one of the top ‘keepers in the world. Steffen has played 12 domestic cup games over two seasons and once each in Champions League and the Premier League.
He is an able alternative if Turner were to falter, but there have been no signs that any such thing is likely. Berhalter will not say it until 6:30 ET on Thursday, but even though he has options, he has no choice.